Thursday, 31 January 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Army Barracks Closures
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who is a good friend and colleague and no stranger to this Chamber. I understand he is taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Joe McHugh, who is attending a number of funerals in Magheraroarty, County Donegal. I extend my sympathies to the families of the four young men who lost their lives. I know the area very well and I understand why the Minister is not present.
In 2011, the Government, in the face of major opposition both locally and nationally, decided to close Dún Uí Neill Army Barracks in Cavan town. There had been an Army barracks in Cavan since the 1700s. In 1990, soldiers moved from the oldest occupied barracks in the world to the most modern in Europe and the only purpose-built barracks in the history of the State. In 2012, the complex was purchased by the then County Cavan Vocational Education Committee, now known as the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. Plans are in place to demolish part of the complex and construct a new building on the site to meet the needs of both Cavan Institute and the training service of Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. I take this opportunity to compliment everybody involved in the former vocational education committee and the current Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board, CMETB. Since the foundation of the Cavan College of Further Education, as Cavan Institute was known then, spearheaded by the then chief executive officer, the late John J. McKay, and ably assisted by the then chairmen, the late Andy O'Brien, and Councillor Clifford Kelly, the institute has been a huge success. It has grown to have 1,200 full-time students and more than 500 students attending adult education classes. It is a major success.
With Brexit and the significant uncertainty we are facing, it is clearly necessary to make preparations for the United Kingdom crashing out of Europe without a deal. It is also important that we secure our State and to do so, it is my firm belief that we need to reopen the barracks. Today, we hear from various Ministers in the British Government that they may need an extension to Brexit. This uncertainty will continue for many years to come. Unfortunately, it will have negative consequences for our economy and the security of the State. I am aware that officials from the Department of Defence have been in County Cavan and is looking at accommodation in the event of a hard Brexit. I believed it visited warehouses in Cavan town and Ballyconnell. It is ludicrous, when we have a modern purpose-built Army barracks in Cavan town earmarked for demolition, that officials should be trying to secure accommodation for the Defence Forces in warehouses. This is not good enough.
I ask the Minister of State to request that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, give a commitment that the former barracks will not be interfered with until we have at least been given an indication as to what will be the outcome of Brexit. This would not hold up the plans of Cavan and Monaghan ETB. There are plenty of greenfield sites around the town that could be investigated and considered. It makes absolutely no sense to knock down a purpose-built Army barracks and then try to secure alternative accommodation that will cost hundred of thousands of euro.